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Then // Now // Where To Helienne Lindvall – 

Songwriters are the ‘unsung’ heroes behind the scenes of music production round the world, they’re forever busy creating the tunes, hooks, words, and sounds that give the voice to the performers. We had to fix a chat with for-ever busy Helienne Lindvall to hear about her career as an international songwriter, what makes her tick and her activism in the world of music rights.

Helienne Lindvall

Hailing from Sweden, Helienne has worked as a session singer, recording artist, and performer in Stockholm and New York before settling in London, where she signed a publishing deal with BMG Scandinavia. Since then, she has worked with recording artists on both sides of the Atlantic, including Roger Sanchez and Big Daddy Wilson, and collaborated with award-winning writers such as Jörgen Elofsson (Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears), Patrik Berger (Icona Pop, Robyn), and Steve McEwan (Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood).

Helienne has championed creators’ rights since 2008, when she became the writer behind The Guardian music industry columns Behind the Music and Plugged In. She is Board Director at The Ivors Academy and chairs their Songwriter Committee as well as the Ivor Novello Awards Committee. Helienne is also the former Head of Business & Songwriter relations for the song data management platform Auddly, backed by hitmakers Max Martin and Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus.

THEN

What was your first introduction into the world of professional music? Did you train in music college, on the job, how did you begin?

Growing up in Stockholm, I went to a high school of performing arts focused on music where we had all the regular subjects, but in a concentrated form in order to also have more music lessons. I studied vocals, choir, composition and classical guitar. One of my classmates performed in the Swedish Eurovision tryouts and ended up releasing an album as well as touring. I did backup vocals on her album and her summer tour around Sweden when I was 17. It was the best summer job ever! I got to hang out with my friends, make music, perform and see the country – and it paid way more than the catering job I’d done during the previous summer. I was definitely hooked.

Many of us in the music world see musical directing as the unsung hero of major live productions – how did you start out in this area?

So after around 10/15 years as a producer/writer, I’d kind of lost my way a bit and when one of the artists I was working with at the time asked if I wanted to do some gigs with them on keys, I thought why not? Gigging around town I started meeting other musicians around town and realised there was a somewhat buoyant live scene where people were actually making quite a bit of money sessioning. After spending many years essentially doing 100’s of writing sessions for free I again thought why not? Having been a producer for so long my playing and programming skills were noticed by people I’d work with and after a few months of doing gigs I’d heard that the Sugababes (who were a big group at the time) were looking for a new keyboard player so I ending up auditioning and getting the job. I thought I’d do it for a few months to clear up some credit card debts and before I knew it, I’d been on the project for 3/4 years and when the MD of that band was busy doing another project I was put forward for the MD role. Having been around that project for a while it was easy for me to take on that responsibility and from there my MD career essentially took off exponentially.

Songwriting really is both the magic behind the scenes and the core content in performance. How did you first get into, specifically, songwriting for others?

Like many professional songwriters, I started out as an artist myself. One of my demos eventually found its way onto the desk of the MD of Universal Music Publishing Scandinavia, who asked if I’d be interested in writing for other artists. It had never really crossed my mind, but after they put me in the studio with some of their writers, I was bitten by the bug. After receiving offers from UMPG, BMG and Chrysalis, I decided to sign with BMG Publishing – though they were eventually bought by Universal, so I ended up there after all.

What are your favourite moments or experiences in your career so far?

My favourite moments are moments of creativity, making music with people I respect and admire. When you channel pure creativity and come up with something you’re really proud of, there’s no feeling like it.

The ink on my BMG contract had just about dried when they sent me to Nashville for my first ever songwriting camp. We stayed in cabins in the state park, and every morning the publisher would read out who was going to write with whom, in groups of three. We went to our designated cabins, wrote and finished a song by lunch, performed it in front of the others – and then they read out who we would write with in the afternoon. We finished and performed another song before dinner. It was baptising by fire, for sure.

I still remember the second night of the camp, when we were all hanging out in the main cabin drinking beer, wine and moonshine. They passed around a mic and guitar for the writers to sing some of their biggest hits, and that’s when my eyes were truly opened. I remember Manuel Seal from Atlanta singing Usher’s break-through hit You Make Me Wanna, and Allan Rich singing Whitney Houston’s Run to You from The Bodyguard.

I was floored. I had no idea they had written those songs. The thought of them being able to walk down the street, no one knowing who they were, and yet they’d written the soundtracks to many people’s life … that’s the moment I really decided it was what I wanted to do for a living.

How would you describe one of your typical songwriting sessions? A day in the (pre-covid) life of Helienne…

Haha, yes, it’s important to make a distinction between pre- and post-Covid.

Pre-Covid I’d do a lot of travelling, writing with people in the US and Sweden, as well as the UK. Sometimes I go in the studio and write something from scratch with the artist. If it’s an artist like Roger Sanchez, he’ll usually have a basic track for us to write a topline (melody and lyrics) to. If I write with the artist, we usually have a chat in the beginning to get to the bottom of where they are emotionally in their lives, what they’re passionate about, in order to find a starting point for the lyric. I always bring a trove of title ideas and melodic ideas that I may throw into the mix, in case we need some inspiration.

I think it’s important to have fun when writing, to feel relaxed enough to be able to make what might initially sound like ridiculous suggestions. As legendary Country music writer Bob DiPiero once said: “It’s only a tiny difference between a stupid idea and $250,000.”

NOW

We have all been hugely affected in some way by the disruption this year, but creativity in chaos is at our core – how has your working life changed since Covid?

I’ve always preferred writing in the studio from scratch with other people. Due to the pandemic, there hasn’t been much of that this year – and no travelling to write with people in other countries since March. As self-employed musicians, we’re used to rolling with the punches, so I decided early on to make the best of the situation. As a songwriter I’m used to spending quite a bit of time alone with my own writing and recording setup, it’s just been a lot more of that in the past year.

How have you found the last 8 months musically? Have you been able to continue to create? If you have done remote sessions, how have you found them in comparison to working in person?

I’ve done a lot of co-writing via Zoom and LANDR Sessions. It’s not ideal. But with LANDR Sessions (currently in Beta), at least the sound is much better than Zoom, as you use a plugin which pipes the recording straight to the other person. I’ve also written much more on my own, for the first time in a long time, and am hoping to become better at producing and programming music myself on Logic. It’s been a time of slowing down, playing for the fun of it as well as for a purpose. I’ve even taken my classical guitar out again, for the first time in ages.

It seems as though professional music associations such as The Ivors Academy have really had to come together in this period of uncertainty to represent the voices of music creators throughout Covid-19. Being on the board and chair of two committees, how have you found this process?

I’ve been busier than ever with the Ivors Academy, for sure. We had to postpone the Ivor Novello Awards – and, as we realised social distancing rules would stay in place a lot longer than initially hoped, we had to turn it into an online event, broadcast on Apple Music 1, with our lifetime Gift of the Academy Awards recipients agreeing to accept their awards at next years’ awards.

I’m also on the Ivors Policy Unit, which draws up plans and does the groundwork for all our campaigns. We’ve been working for years on improving the way songwriters and composers are remunerated when their music is streamed. Until now, we’ve found it difficult to get artists on board, as they’ve been able to cover the losses they’ve made on recorded music by touring. But now, when touring is out of the question, it’s clear to them too that the proverbial Emperor is naked – streaming has largely benefitted the bigger labels, while those who created the music have been left behind.

So we launched our #FixStreaming campaign along with the Musicians Union, urging the Government to do an inquiry into the streaming economy – and, to our delight, the DCMS agreed to do so. So now we’re in the middle of preparing for that inquiry.

I’ve also been very focused on increasing diversity within the Songwriter Committee as well as the Board, reaching out to writers in the wider community and encouraging them to get involved. I’m so pleased that this has resulted in the brilliant Hannah V, Tre Jean Marie, Kojo Samuel and Cass the Beatmaker joining the Committee – and Janée “Jin Jin” Bennett joining us on the Board.

WHERE TO

What have you got lined up for the near future as a songwriter?

I’ve got a couple of releases coming up: “Unwant You” with Glass Keys feat Dani Senior and a record for Ultra Records called “Deeper Love”. Am also working on some production music as well as a couple of other dance tracks, there’s always several projects on the go. I’ll start on Roger Sanchez’ next album in the near future as well.

As live music has been paused, do you think people will spend more time on the creation of music? Do you think the art of songwriting will perhaps garner more attention and appreciation? Perhaps now the ‘classic album’ will return?

Absolutely. Music has been the solace for so many people during the lockdowns, whether it’s rediscovering their favourite albums or dancing around the house to dance music and disco. It’s been a time of reflection for music creators as well – a reboot, if you will.

How do you feel about the future of the music industry in 2021, 2022?

I’m the eternal optimist. People are so hungry for the communal experience of a concert, something live streaming just can’t replace. Reforming the streaming economy won’t happen overnight, but I’m thrilled that it’s become a priority for all creators. It will have to happen if we want true diversity in music, instead of a winner-takes-all music scene. The internet has so much potential – we just have to make sure everyone benefits from it, not just the big corporations. And Biden just won the US election, a sign that there’s hope for love, empathy and solidarity in the face of hatred and divisiveness.

Have recent experiences influenced your perspective of what you would like to do next within your career in music?

It has definitely been a time of reflection – and for the first time in ages I’m now contemplating becoming an artist again and release my own music. The thought of it is getting me really inspired and excited.


 

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